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Planned Ascent: Bouldering Wall is a Physical and Mental Challenge

Tuesday, November 07, 2017
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RHIT's bouldering wall is open to everyone—from the first-timers to experienced climbers such as members of the Rock Climbing Club.

Ascending a bouldering wall takes strength and skill, but sometimes it’s strategy and choosing your path wisely that are the difference between a successful climb and a tumble to the mat below.

It’s that dual challenge that attracts students to the 14-foot bouldering wall in Rose-Hulman’s Sports and Recreation Center. The popular feature is open to everyone—from the newbie to more experienced climbers like Rebecca Swertfeger, a senior optical engineering student and member of the Rock Climbing Club.

“Climbing is a fun, rewarding sport,” she says. “The challenge is choosing which walls to climb, which to skip, and which to save for later.”

Swertfeger and the rest of the team reached the summit of the past two USA Climbing collegiate regional championships—winning those contests and qualifying for last spring’s nationals in San Diego, Calif., There, they faced competitors from climbing powerhouse clubs based in mountainous regions of Colorado, Texas and Utah.

Collegiate rock climbing has students competing in the bouldering or sports climbing divisions in indoor gymnasium-based courses. During a three-hour open session, competitors are allowed to make numerous attempts at different routes on the climbing wall. Climbers are scored based upon the difficulty of the route chosen to complete the climb.

Jake Toppen, a 2017 graduate, was the club’s top finisher at the nationals, placing 26th out of 115 male climbers in the sport climbing class. Spencer Ankley and Aidan McKnight finished 73rd and 87th, respectively, in the male division of the bouldering class, while Rebecca Swertfeger was 82nd among female climbers. Rose-Hulman’s club finished among the top 50 teams.

The most challenging aspect of a competition is time management, according to McKnight, a sophomore engineering physics major.

“It’s important to save enough energy and stamina for the really hard problems that are at your climbing limit,” says Ankley, a 2017 mechanical engineer alumnus. “As it is with any sport, performing under pressure and having mental fortitude are key to success.